http://hamptonroads.com/2014/02/beer...tidewater-tour

By Selene D. Guerrero
Virginian-Pilot correspondent
© March 2, 2014
In the last four years, Hampton Roads has seen the craft beer movement grow and people are learning that crafts aren't just for hipsters or "beer snobs."

Taste Tidewater Tour, owned by Virginia Beach residents, Rex and Lisa Hamaker, have long supported local businesses through their work with Buy Fresh Buy Local. They are taking their knowledge and passion for all things local and educating people about eating and drinking fresh and in season.

Their goal is to expose people to local brews, wines and foods and one way they are doing that is with their tour of local breweries, wineries and, soon, culinary establishments.

The Norfolk brew stops that the tour makes are Smartmouth, O'Connor and The Birch bar, which serves dozens of craft and international beers.

But before you think party bus, there's more to this tour than just a limousine service. Once inside the executive coach, guests are filled with fun and educational facts about the local breweries.

A host is sent into the venues with the touring group and nobody takes swills of beer; there is a process to craft beer tasting: check for clarity, smell what's in it and finally, drink.

The Hamakers are taking people straight to the brewery and oftentimes the owners are there to greet you and answer questions.

"Once you cross that threshold from regular beer," Rex Hamaker said, "you will taste the difference. There's a reason it costs more, these people are actually getting their hands on it."

And there's nothing fresher than getting your beer straight from the brewery.

"It was interesting to see how different the breweries were," Keren Leavis, who toured last summer with her husband, said.

"My husband and I were so pleased, we had no idea these breweries existed."

Smartmouth Brewing Company

Stepping into Smartmouth Brewing Company you're immediately greeted with the scents of grains and rich yeast. To the left, the bar's first customers start filtering in at 4:30 p.m. Most are regulars.

"I'll take a Rule G," a man orders.

The daily beers on tap are displayed on a chalkboard wall behind the bar.

Patrons file in after work, filling the long communal tables.

Some bring in their own food and others order a quick bite from the food truck parked by the curb. And in just a few minutes, the 1,100-square-foot tasting room is nearly filled to capacity.

"Our demand has grown exponentially," Christine Neikirk, one of Smartmouth's investors, said.

"It's a little crazy how much we've grown."

Smartmouth opened its doors in November of 2012 and has seen great success, already taking home awards for their Alter Ego Saison, a smooth beer with a dry finish and Notch 9 Double IPA, an unfiltered crisp beer.

Neikirk added that owner, Porter Hardy IV, formerly a lawyer, had always had an interest in well crafted beers and had homebrewed in the past. When her husband, Chris, and Hardy met, the two decided to make investments towards crafting great beer.

"Our whole plan was based on having really good beer," Neikirk said.

"This area has been craving craft beers and there are lots of options out there. There is now a demand for craft beers."

With the help of head brewer, Gregg Papp, the brewery has created a palate full of pleasing beers. The crowd favorites are Alter Ego Saison, Murphy's Law amber ale, named after the many obstacles and challenges that came with starting the brewery, and Rule G IPA.

Smartmouth beer is not in bottle form yet and can only be found at select restaurants, Tortilla West, No Frill Bar & Grill and Cogan's Pizza, to name a few. The beer can also be purchased at the location by the pint, a sample flight or a growler.

O'Connor Brewing Company

Within a two-mile radius of Smartmouth, O'Connor Brewing Company is shutting down its daily operations. Workers move equipment out of the way and section off the steel fermenters, turning the factory into a taproom in less than an hour.

Inside the unassuming industrial building, picnic tables and lawn chairs are set up and patrons begin to fill the location.

The look and feel of the tasting room is different from Smartmouth, it's gritty and authentic here.

The brewing company is one of the area's largest craft beer breweries, making on average 14,000 gallons of beer per month, Kevin O'Connor, founder and owner said. The demand for his product is so great that they are expanding to a larger space this spring. The new 30,000-square-foot facility won't be too far from the current location, only a two minute drive away.

The extra space will allow O'Connor to produce up to 15,000 barrels a year. One barrel makes 31 gallons of beer.

O'Connor founded the business in 2009 and began brewing in a very elaborate set-up in his backyard. The brews were released in March of 2010 and since then he has seen his business grow.

"Our beer is in 7-11 now," O'Connor said.

"I never expected that."

What's on tap? Their flagship beers are Green Can Golden Ale, Red Nun Red Ale, Norfolk Canyon Pale Ale, Great Dismal Black IPA, El Guapo Agave IPA and O'Connor Dry Irish Stoute (ODIS).

The beers can be purchased at local grocery stores in six-packs and 22 ounce bottles, local restaurants also carry the brews and O'Connor hopes to cover all of Virginia this year. Of course, one can stop by the brewery and fill a growler, enjoy a flight or sip a pint.

Selene Guerrero, selenedguerrero@gmail.com

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Taste Tidewater Tour
When Call for booking
Price $65 - $395
Contact 757-340-TOUR (8687) or www.tastetidewater.com

Smartmouth Brewing Company
Where 1309 Raleigh Ave., Suite 300
When 4:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday - Friday; and noon to 7 p.m. Saturday
Contact 757-624-3939 or www.smartmouthbrewing.com

O’Connors Brewing Company
Where 521 W. 25th St.
When 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday - Friday; and noon to 7 p.m. Saturday
Contact 757-623-2337 or www.oconnorbrewing.com